Dresden Files Storm Front Ch3

Last time, a thug threatens to break Harry’s legs. Sadly, they’re still currently intact.

Harry informs us that “Gentleman Johnny Marcone” looks like a friendly guy. Everyone else is terrifying.

“Hey, Hendricks. You should really wear your seat belt. Statistics say you’re fifty or sixty percent safer.”
Cujo growled at me in the rearview mirror again, and I beamed at him. Smiling always seems to annoy people more than actually insulting them. Or maybe I just have an annoying smile.

This is the “mature” version of Conner’s nice socks quip. What’s really obnoxious about it here is Harry’s playing dumb about why it annoys people. This is calculated, so he knows exactly what he’s doing, yet he’s presenting it to the reader like a wide eyed kid going gosh, I have no idea why he’s so mad, I was just being friendly.

(Incidentally, Harry’s presence promptly fucks up the radio (1900s) while the rest of the car (1900s) continues to be smooth perfection, even though we’re specifically told that he can’t be in any car more recent than the 1940s and this is a very shiny and new one. This is particularly disappointing because having their awesome and surely very expensive car break down under them as a result of inviting a wizard in to threaten would’ve been a scene you really never see.)

Marcone, thank god, decides to just skip forward to his offer of paying Harry to sit around for the next two weeks. I’m not sure if this is a sign of him being nice or a sign that he’s rolling in so much drug money that chucking it at problems seems like less effort or to say that Harry is such a badass the mob would rather bribe him than end up fighting him. (I am pretty sure there is never an actual reason for why they don’t want him investigating. The author knows that everyone with any involvement in the case is supposed to threaten the detective to stop and doesn’t consider that normally they have some sort of motive for doing so.)

Harry, though, isn’t too interested in two weeks of free money. I’m pretty sure this is morals here, though on a practical level, he actually can’t take the money either – it’d be thousands of dollars now, sure, but he was just told that if he doesn’t produce something this time, the police will never call him up again and they’re pretty much the only people employing him.

Marcone’s smile faltered. His expression became earnest. “Mister Dresden, I am quite eager to establish a positive working relationship, here. If it’s the money, I can offer you more. Let’s say double your usual fee.” He steepled his hands in front of him as he talked, half-turning toward me. My God, I kept expecting him to tell me to go out there and win one for the Gipper. He smiled. “How does that sound?”

Now, here’s the thing. Harry tells us proudly that he totally worked out that this guy doesn’t want him to investigate the murder!!! But that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is Marcone is desperate enough to keep this quiet that he responds with doubling his offer and not a hint of threat, despite threats obviously being his usual business staple given that’s all that came out of any of the thugs’ mouths.

Harry is totally failing as a detective. He isn’t asking leading questions or anything. Even if his morals mean he would never accept criminal money, he doesn’t even do the thing where he pretends to be interested but with reservations, or says that he’d love to but already promised the police to check the spell, but could be convinced not to take on another job about…what is it particularly Marcone’s concerned about, again?

Given Marcone is supposedly the reasonable face of crime, it might even actually work to just say that as far as he knows, there’s no connection to Marcone, so let’s just go our separate ways with money staying in wallets and leg bones staying in legs. Given absolutely no one seems to even know what wizards do, Marcone could be freaking out that he’s going to try to do a divination, see a bunch of unrelated crimes, then run to the police with it, which Harry obviously won’t do given the police don’t believe him and supposedly aren’t interested in taking Marcone down in the first place. Or something. The odds that Marcone actually knows what he’d be doing and wants to prevent that is actually really low when you consider there’s so many more ways to be wrong.

This would even still allow Harry to tick his precious poor-yet-ethical box, since trying to reason with the guy that the murder investigation (or at least Harry’s end of it) will have little to nothing to do with him will also mean Marcone now has no reason to bribe him.

Harry decides to alpha male a bit with a good stare, and Marcone’s just yeah fuck you I always win chicken and they’re ~soulgazing~ each other now. In a very manly and heterosexual fashion. Just to be clear, I wish I was implying they were gay because that’d be entertaining, but no, we are solidly in manly men’s manly hetero adventures today.

Okay, so, for some reason, if a wizard locks eyes with anyone, the two see into each other’s souls. That’s why everyone’s been avoiding his eyes even though plenty of them don’t believe he’s a wizard or magic exists.

He was a soldier, a warrior, behind that relaxed smile and fatherly manner. He was going to get what he wanted and he was going to get it in the most efficient way possible.
He was a dedicated man-dedicated to his goals, dedicated to his people. He never let fear affect him. He made a living on human misery and suffering, peddling in drugs and flesh and stolen goods, but he took steps to minimize that suffering because it was simply the most efficient means of running his business. He was furious over Tommy Tomm’s death-a cold and practical kind of fury that his rightful dominion had been invaded and challenged.
He intended to find those responsible and deal with them in his own way-and he didn’t want the police interfering. He had killed before, and would again, and it would all mean nothing more to him than a business transaction, than paying for groceries in the checkout line. It was a dry and cool place, inside Gentleman Johnny Marcone. Except for one dim corner.
There, hidden away from his everyday thoughts, there lurked a secret shame. I couldn’t quite see what it was. But I knew that, somewhere in the past there was something that he would give anything to undo, would spill blood to erase. It was from that dark place that he drew his resolve, his strength.
That was the way I saw him when I looked inside, past all his pretenses and defenses.

Except, naturally, for his super important dark secret, which apparently still had the defenses up just fine.

Anyway, this pretty much boils down to “he’s evil, but he’s cool evil”, fitting in with our sexy high class prostitute. There’s suffering somewhere, but let’s just not think about it and anyway he’s minimizing it so there’d just be more without him.

There’s various reasons this doesn’t seem convincing to me. One is that, sadly, minimizing suffering is often not the most efficient way of doing things. I could actually buy it if he was primarily a drugs person, because selling drugs actually works best in a stable environment with as few drive-by shootings as possible, and there’s various types of drugs with some being worse than others. Stolen goods is a lot iffier – requires a good flow of theft, which is going to be increasing net misery. And flesh is one of those things where you make more money the more misery you can wring out of it.

You can theoretically have someone running a criminal empire that involves no raping of teen runaways, but you can’t do that on the basis of profit. Profit says to get preteens for raping and then sell the tapes of it for more money.

Ironically, setting this guy up as the newcomer to the area just makes that worse – established criminal empires might have some sort of code about shit they don’t let happen, but people who have to claw their way up from scratch, not so much. It’s like the difference between a king and a dictator. It’s the same thing, but the guys who had to fight to get it and keep fighting to keep it are going to be way more horrible in practice.

The soulgaze is reciprocal, and Harry explains he’s not sure quite what he looks like inside, but whatever it is it’s so hardboiled that most people freak out and one even fainted upon seeing his soul, but that Marcone has outbadassed him by being totally chill at whatever it is he saw. Also, he realizes this was totally what Marcone meant to do all along, which enrages Harry because Harry gets angry at everything.

Just a second later, I felt scared to death of this man. I had looked on his soul and it had been as solid and barren as a stainless-steel refrigerator. It was more than unsettling. He was strong, inside, savage and merciless without being cruel. He had a tiger’s soul.

Harry has presumably never soulgazed an actual tiger, because I’m like 99% sure their souls aren’t like an empty steel refrigerator.

“I think you’ll be happier if you come down with the flu for a few days. This business that Detective Murphy has asked you to look into doesn’t need to be dragged out into the light. You won’t like what you see. It’s on my side of the fence. Just let me deal with it, and it won’t ever trouble you.”
“Are you threatening me?” I asked him. I didn’t think he was, but I didn’t want him to know that. It would have helped if my voice hadn’t been shaking.
“No,” he said, frankly. “I have too much respect for you to resort to something like that.

Going by fandom Marcone the bestest nicest criminal will either remain true or get even worse, and it’s barely tolerable just in this introduction. He’s so nice and he only wants Harry not to help the police because he’s so concerned about bringing the killer to justice himself and not bother Harry with the sordid details!

They say that you’re the real thing, Mister Dresden. A real magus.”

And so we return to the urban fantasy staple of magic being real but only the really wise like Marcone believing what they hear, except that we just had the blatant magic of soulgazing so he doesn’t need to rely on filtering secondhand information at all.

He ends by saying he doesn’t want to end up in conflict and he’s sure they’ll be able to live and let live, so Harry, presumably annoyed the author is out-sueing him with Marcone, snaps back that yeah, he bets Marcone doesn’t want a conflict with someone as dangerous as Harry.

Marcone, being an actual adult, just shrugs this off and moves on with life while Harry stands on the sidewalk telling us again about how oh my god Marcone was so incredibly cool about the soulgaze thing he’s even cooler about it than other actual wizards oh my god he is so so cool.

27 Comments

  1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
    Now I want to get my cat a miniature pumpkin and see what he does.

    Nothing in my cat’s behavior when his territory is threatened suggests the interior of a stainless steel refrigerator, unless people ordinarily keep stuff in their refrigerator that wails, puffs up, runs at the fence growling, gets in fights, and rolls over to show its belly. My leftovers are not that aggressive.

    Marcone has the soul of an accountant at a big-four (three?) CPA firm.

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    1. Farla says:
      You can also try watermelon and corn on the cob, some cats love them.

      And since it’s a boycat, have you checked what he thinks of olives? That can be utterly hilarious.

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  2. Roarke says:
    “Harry decides to alpha male a bit with a good stare, and Marcone’s just yeah fuck you I always win chicken and they’re ~soulgazing~ each other now.”

    Shirou and Archer have some competition, goddamn.

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    1. Farla says:
      God, I wish. I’m in awe of how completely un-homoerotic Harry’s gushing soulgaze is, especially when I know this is a huge pairing. Is this really what passes for subtext in Western canons?

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      1. Roarke says:
        What… really? Wait, but… HOW!? I thought you were joking about saying you couldn’t joke about the obvious, obvious homoeroticism there. Like, seriously, is it for real?

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        1. Farla says:
          Nope. He thinks the guy is a dad. And not in the entertaining way.

          Like, they’re two guys and they interacted positively, so I can definitely see where the idea of them fucking comes from, but bah. He hasn’t even said anything about appreciating Marcone’s steel.

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          1. Roarke says:
            Yeah, like Shirou admiring Archer’s “steel back” or having “his figure engraved in [Shirou’s] mind.” Come on Butcher, step up your game! You’ll never catch Nasu at this rate!

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  3. SoxyOutfoxing says:
    See, the whole Noble Crime Leader is Gracious and Kind trope so doesn’t work for me, mostly because of its total lack of psychological verisimilitude. People in crime syndicates are scared all the time. They live a life of constant fear, not just of the cops, but of each other, since if you know everyone you work with is willing to break the law and kill people, you know that they are willing to break the law and kill you if sufficient motive ever arises. Then, they can’t afford to show weakness, so they can’t actually talk about the horrible aspects of their lives. And getting out of the life is so difficult its barely an option, which naturally causes people to feel trapped. The threat of prison is always lurking in the back of their heads, as is the knowledge that they might have to one day kill their closest friends.

    So the majority of criminals working high up in a crime empire are people feeling cornered and dealing with horrible stress and paranoia and repression, and the result is not conductive to giving back to the community. You can avoid this baggage by being emotionless, but then why would you bother being noble and gracious and kind?

    The fact that Johnny Marcone can apparently kill people as a business transaction does suggest he is lacking a conscience, but then seriously, Harry should just be dead. Who cares if he’s magic; in fact, being magic is dandy incentive to kill him! If Johnny Marcone has emotions, the chief one in his situation should be raging paranoia, one of the emotions most conductive to constant casual murder of anyone perceived as a possible threat.

    Like, I don’t wanna declare that “All criminals should be written this way, because real life RAWR,” especially since real people are naturally more complicated than what I’ve outlined above and it won’t apply to every criminal ever, at all. But I’m so tired of writers just completely ignoring that side of things for “The leader of my pseudo-mafia is so fearless and awesome and badass with the shooting people, and also they have like deep inner pain, but no really, everything they do is just fantastic, and they are totes living the dream, and we should be friends with them because they mean well.”

    Seriously, it would be much more effective if Harry’s soul-reading power revealed that underneath a totally convincing facade of bravery/ennui Johnny Marcone was living in sheer gut-clenching terror. Does he ever look into someone and see something surprising? “Scary criminal is tough,” does not seem that shocking to me, and it really isn’t interesting.

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    1. illhousen says:
      It is especially appropriate to make Marcone a paranoid wreck on the inside since he is aware of the magic stuff, but doesn’t appear to know the specific.

      Since he’s involved in the case, he knows there is someone who can one day just decide to explode his heart, and there isn’t much he can do about it.

      In his place, I would go around wrapped in garlic Bibles.

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      1. Farla says:
        In fairness, I think his secondary goal was to see if he could get a wizard on payroll who would know about it. At this point, we don’t know that his home isn’t made of nothing but stacked bibles tied together in garlic. (It isn’t and in fact he appears to have made no attempts at arcane protection at all.)

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        1. Roarke says:
          Who needs arcane protection when you can casually soulfuck a wizard as badass as Dresden?

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    2. Farla says:
      Seriously, it would be much more effective if Harry’s soul-reading power revealed that underneath a totally convincing facade of bravery/ennui Johnny Marcone was living in sheer gut-clenching terror.

      It’d also have been a much bigger deal than “huh, this guy is super chill and reasonable, he probably won’t even break one of my fingers over this”.

      Imagine a split second of Harry thinking “haha, he’s afraid of me!” followed by realizing that he was trapped in a small place with someone incredibly powerful, incredibly afraid, and prone to lashing out.

      Kind of like a cornered tiger!

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      1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
        Yes, thinking about it isn’t so much the lack of psychological verisimilitude that bothers me so much as the wasted dramatic potential. Authors should take every chance they have to make things difficult for their main character, and a hacked-off paranoid mobster upset that Harry has magic and used it to learn about said mobster’s sad feelings could cause so many delicious problems.

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  4. Zephyr says:
    Does the soulgazing thing happen every time he locks eyes with someone? Because if it does and Harry still insists on looking people in the eye, that’s pretty assholish behaviour. Seriously, he’s not trying to avoid doing something that’s such a massive breach of privacy?

    Also, if he can see that level of detail regarding people’s motivations and intentions, why don’t the police have him in to soulgaze any suspects they have? That could even serve as an actual character conflict – it would potentially help in solving the case, but it’s a horrible thing to do even if the person has no idea that anything’s happened, so what’s the most moral thing for Harry to do?

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    1. illhousen says:
      I don’t remember if it was there from the beginning or if it’s a later retcon, but soulgazing doesn’t give you specific details. You can tell that someone is a complete sociopath with no redeeming qualities and a sadistic streak a mile long, but you won’t be able to tell if it’s a serial killer or just a politic.

      It’s still useful to assign priorities to suspects if you have more than one, but probably not enough to so completely violate someone’s privacy.

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      1. Farla says:
        He definitely confirms that Marcone is a murderer here, so while he might not be able to figure out which specific crimes Marcone did, if the guy has currently served 0 sentences for murder, you know he should be prosecuted for murdering somebody.

        Even with the vaguer one, I can’t imagine that many sociopaths are running around so long as he doesn’t have to try to solve a locked room mystery taking place during a congressional meeting. Worst case scenario, you convict one murderer for a murder a different guy did.

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    2. Farla says:
      It’ll be confirmed next chapter that he expects everyone else to avoid his eyes, because the world should bend to Harry.

      I think the soulgaze suspects thing would get you in trouble, though – even if we get over the issue of the police not believing him, because a few soulgazes should take care of that, there’s the problem you’re not supposed to terrorize witnesses and they have no way of verifying any of Harry’s claims.

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      1. SpoonyViking says:
        Plus, I imagine any information he gained from this soulgaze would be inadmissible in court and coult actually jeopardize the whole investigation.

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        1. illhousen says:
          It would be indeed inadmissible due to magic being hidden from the world, but the flipside is that the suspects can’t really do anything about it. It’s not like they can seriously claim that their soul was violated.

          Then the police can concentrate on the most likely suspects to find legal evidence.

          There are still issues with focusing on someone you know is a murderer but have no proof: police needs to justify the line of investigation to the higher ups. But at least they would know where to dig.

          I am not sure how useful it would be in practice, but it’s kinda weird it doesn’t come up.

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          1. SpoonyViking says:
            “It’s not like they can seriously claim that their soul was violated.”

            Well… If it’s something that’s out of Harry’s control, it wouldn’t be difficult to prove that, just have someone look him in the eyes.

            But it’s true that it could be very useful if the police know where to look and what to look for, but it’s sort of a double-edged sword in that it could ruin the investigation. I can’t even imagine how a lawyer or a prosecutor would deal with magic (I might have to ask, just for fun).

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            1. illhousen says:
              Well, yes, but people in DF for some reason insist on not believing in magic despite its easily provable nature, so I imagine the claim of the suspect would be dismissed. As far as the records show, all Harry did was look at them, after all.

              If the existence of a soulgaze does get proven, that would open a legal nightmare, I think. Aside from the general breaking of the masquerade and all problems that potentially brings on the table.

              The sensible idea is to threat the soulgaze as, well, an opinion of a consultant: grounds to continue the investigation, but not an evidence of guilt in itself.

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  5. illhousen says:
    Was it ever conclusively explained why Marcone is even involved? If the victims worked for him, I can see how he would want to kill the culprit himself to send a message that nobody fucks with him and lives.

    Unless it’s Harry, in which case Marcone will be gentle.

    As it is, I am not sure why he bothers.

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    1. Farla says:
      He wants to murder the party responsible himself, so he doesn’t want the police to find the person. Because apparently waiting for them to find the person for him then murdering the guy in prison is super hard!

      Oh wait no at the end of the book we’re explicitly told he could totally do that.

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  6. sliz225 says:
    I’ve never liked the roguish, charming thief archetype. I know that isn’t quite what we’re dealing with, but it’s just a pet peeve. It’s why I liked a recent episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor meets Robin Hood and Robin Hood promptly tries to steal all his shit, because clearly the man in the fancy clothes with the fancy gadgets is too rich for his own good. People never think that they’d be the rube in the story.

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    1. Farla says:
      Humans have a really amazing capacity to feel that since they don’t currently have everything they want, obviously they’re the unfairly poor person.

      I still recall the weirdest bit on that conservative wikipedia, where someone didn’t like the socialist messages of Jesus criticizing a rich guy and was arguing the correct translation was “amply provisioned” and somehow that meant people with five houses shouldn’t pay taxes because they were only rich, not amply provisioned.

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  7. actonthat says:
    HAHAHA THE BAD GUY IS ITALIAN THAT’S SO ORIGINAL LOLOLOL IT IS TO LAUGH

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    1. Farla says:
      Guess what the previous mob he took over from was! Guess!

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